To write a strict and formal essay on reincarnation is far from my purpose and I trust no one will think I am concerned to attempt to establish the teaching of any particular society or school of thought, because I find no better word than theosophy to express that light which has removed many of the doubts and much of the darkness of my mental and spiritual life and made my path more easy and clear.
I shall make no apology for the strong element of personality which must appear in these notes whose use for this article was suggested to me by Mr. Arthur Massey’s "A Problem Solved and a Confession," in the August Epoch (though the gist of what I would say was written some years ago); for I believe upon such a subject personal testimony alone is valuable and also because in saying such a thing is or appears to me, I shall hope to avoid the pit-fall of dogmatism.
Let there be no misapprehension in anyone’s mind about my use of the word theosophy, I hasten to say that for me it does not mean the science of the supernatural, or ghosts and psychical conjuring tricks, nor could I limit its truths to any society or system of thought, to me they are nothing unless they may be universal, and very reverently I say it and with some hesitation lest I should be misunderstood, I yet believe that to speak of absolute Truth is to speak of what one knows not for to each soul Truth may have a different aspect, yet in Walt Whitman’s words "whatever satisfies souls is true."
The literal translation of the word theosophy is, I believe, divine wisdom or God wisdom, and I interpret its purpose as being enquiry into and study of these main questions: What is man? What is his relationship to his fellows? Whence came he? Whither is he bound? The acceptance of theosophy as a guide in life need not mean the overthrow of any religion, for the heart and centre of its creed (if indeed it is permissible to narrow it by such a term as creed) is, "There is no religion higher than Truth."
I have said that to the best of my belief, theosophy has for its chief aim the study of four main questions—What is man? Whence came he? What is his relationship to his fellows? Whither is he bound?
From knowledge of the deep basic truths that sustain the great world religions it has gathered these answers: Man is an outcome of the one Life, an expression and manifestation of the life of God. Do not the first two questions find answer here and is not the answer to the next one also implied? Out of the all embracing Life, the One Life, the Life of God, man comes. What then can any true relationship with his fellows be but brotherhood, a universal, all inclusive brotherhood; for all humanity is one in origin, one in spirit and in life, and bound inevitably to the same goal. This brings us to the fourth and last question, Whither is man bound? Theosophy replies, to God from whence he came.
Here then, in one wonderful word is the answer to the four great questions of life. We are of God, children of the Eternal, manifestations of the one Life, which must be if God be All. From God we come, in each other we may see God and to God surely we are returning. This almost in a sentence is the teaching of theosophy as it appears to me, this is the great root out of which all else grows. Theosophy, then, makes no claim to the founding of any new religion, but only to make clearer the meanings of those already in existence It does not say to you who believe as I do, that every aspiration of the soul as well as every demand of the intellect may find satisfaction in Christianity—give up your Christianity—but rather, study your Christianity more profoundly, open the eyes of your spirit and look into its esoteric meanings, reject only that "which offends your soul" search out the eternal spirit of truth that lurks and hides rather than reveals itself at first glance in the letter.
What theosophy does seek to remove is the intolerance which believes all truth to be enclosed in one creed and outside the limit of that creed nothing to exist save darkness and evil.
Looking out through the nations of the world, through the ages of evolution, we see humanity at every stage of development. Is it reasonable to think that what will suffice for the need of one time and stage of development can meet the necessity of each and every one? Is it in accordance with our best conception of the Creator as the God of Love, Love ineffable, boundless, infinite, that He should at anytime, anywhere, fail to reveal Himself to His children? Yet because of the limitations of their vision, how could it be otherwise than that each from his own point of view should see one aspect of the whole, not untrue because it is not, cannot be all the truth? Not less the One because it must inevitably be that One in diversity. There is a very ancient image which well sets forth this truth. It is of the pure water poured into the many differently shaped and colored vessels. Of which, men seeing, say, it is red, it is green, it is round or square, it is shallow, it is blue, it is deep and white and so on endlessly. While truly all are right and all wrong. For indeed the water is ever the same, though it is shaped and colored to the need of those for whom the vessel bears it. This is one of the truths theosophy has seen and with gentle voice it bids men cease to wrangle and fight over the differing shapes and colors of the vessels, and, instead, look within and see the pure, unchanging truth they hold.
Thus does it seem to me, that it would not disturb the belief of any who in their belief have found rest and satisfaction.
But which of us is so satisfied with the path we are treading, that we should find any smoothing away of its obstacles, any new light upon it unwelcome? I know I am not, I never was, and without the light that theosophies and mystical thoughts have thrown upon it, I could not go onward with half the hope and gladness of heart that these thoughts seem to more than justify.
For me they have brought the key to open some of the secrets of Christianity, help to interpret its hidden meanings and mysteries. To some it may be given to need no key, no interpretation: the simple story of Jesus the Christ, the symbol of the tender Shepherd with the lamb that was lost in His arms, needs no interpretation; it is in itself all-sufficient. There are others, no less reverent, no less faithful, no less anxious to believe, who cannot find satisfaction for their need in this symbol and story as it reveals itself to them. To them come the voices of theosophy and mysticism bidding them look below the symbol and the story for the deeper, inner meanings that only spiritual eyes may discern. No society or sect can have any monopoly of these voices of the Spirit—name them as you will—everywhere throughout all religions, all art, all literature; everywhere where you may find the records of human life and thought and aspiration, you may find its evidence. Wherever man is or has left records of himself, will be evidence with or without his consciousness of it, of his possession of the spirit that binds him to the Unseen, the Eternal. With all the persistence and all the steadfastness of which it is capable, my mind dwells on this thought of the oneness, the unity of man with God! this is the magnificent, the supreme, the most joyful and hope-inspiring idea at the root of all ideas of theosophy and mysticism. How can I fall out of the hands of God when by the very nature of my being l am of God, one with His life, having no life apart from His. Do you not see how it answers the question of immortality? For the life of God cannot die. Does it matter how this immortality is attained, whether by slow and gradual stages of development of the soul through innumerable incarnations (which seems to me a theory far from unreasonable—which seems indeed to have advanced by the testimony of much well authenticated experience to a position which is rather among proved facts than theories) or by some other and more mysterious process, so long as we are assured by this unassailable belief, that eternal life has been and is for us, that its purpose must be for good, for out of the All Good it comes and is forever.
It may be that you are asking—What is the practical outcome of these ideas and convictions?—What is their bearing upon the everyday life of this actual world around us?
Believe me they have most definite and potent bearing on everyday life. Do you not see how the fixed and grounded belief in the universal spirit of God in man must break down every barrier betwixt men, must do away with all petty, trammeling ideas of caste, of superiority and condescension? For in deeper truth than can be told, I and my brothers and sisters are one. The terrible inequality of capacity and environment that without this light of theosophy and of reincarnation weighed upon me, a dead paralyzing burden, is lifted. For the things I have are mine by the Good Law, they who have them not may earn them for themselves today and shall have them tomorrow, even as I earned them yesterday, and have them today. Nothing comes by chance. Is one stronger, braver, wiser than I? Yes, and he is older and more experienced and like a trusting little child, I may look up as to an elder brother, knowing that growth must bring me the things that he has, and I lack, in due season.
Perhaps I had feared that this tiny life, this waking dream of a few fleeting years was all, that after came the darkness, or at best the summing up and the apportioning of a shadowy future of good or ill, of heaven or hell. Now the task that daunted me, because of its magnitude and the early coming darkness, may be faced with high hope and courage. For the darkness is but the evening, a time for rest and the wonderful restoration of sleep, with a new morning following close upon it, where I may arise and meet my task again with renewed strength and greater capability.
The older faith set God over against me, Taskmaster, judge, at best Mediator and Savoir. The new faith gives Him to be within me, above me. Striving, hoping, loving through me, suffering, having joy in me, the heart and center, the very life of all my being. Yet ever above me, beckoning cheering me onward, the Highest, yet I myself, the authentic witness of my ultimate attainment.
Do I suffer now? The bitterest sting of the pain is lost, when I know it is of myself and for myself I bear it, that it is but the instrument and pathway to good, not a penalty inflicted. Did life seem purposeless, aimless before? Every moment now has meaning and purpose; for every tiniest action tells, what I do today is done forever. What I gain today is mine forever. I do evil to my neighbor, the action injures me. I do good to him, the good is mine also, for my neighbor is one with me as I am one with him, as we are both one in the life and consciousness of God.
"This is all very well," I seem to hear you saying, "a beautiful ideal, a plausible theory but where are your proofs?
You have spoken glibly of the life of God, of infinity and immortality; but you have brought no proofs of the existence of these." I answer you, I have no proofs to bring with any assurance of satisfying you. What can I say, other than, so it is to me, so he wrote, so said he, so another bear witness that he experienced, thus testified another: and truly of myself I would not say that I have absolute proof. I think I live in this real world, myself a substantial, actual entity, surrounded by beings no less substantial. Yet last night in sleep I was conscious of a peopled world no less real and of a personality which seemed my own of whose existence I had as little doubt. That world and its people faded with my dream. How can I know that this seeming real world around me now may not fade also in some fuller awakening. Of what indeed have I actual proof? Not of this body, for to me it is not more real than the one I moved in my dream, not of the people around me now, for neither do they seem more real than those of the vision which passed away with the night.
What, then, remains fixed and certain for me? Nothing absolutely but the point of consciousness that can say "I am"; and of that existence I know not how I can bring absolute proof to you? Yet it is just that point of consciousness that self which knows in each of us, that must be the real, the immortal ego. Not the brain, for that I may use and play upon as l would any other tool or instrument. Not my mind for that again is mine, not me, something to be used at my will; but the self, the knower, the spark of divinity in you and in me that binds us to all divinity, that makes us one. Thus I come not to demand or to answer demands for proofs of these theories which I accept as theosophical or mystical, but to try to prove that there can be no absolute, demonstrable answer to such demands and to add that to the self which can know, which in due time must know, proof becomes unnecessary. This remains, real or unreal, actual life or dream I find myself here, with the path of life before me and I must go onward. With all my power of believing, I do believe, it is—with all its waking and sleeping visions—in truth no dream, but real reality, earnest, purposeful, as the life of God, with which it is inextricably mingled and nowhere do I find such strength to sustain me in this belief as in these thoughts and ideals of reincarnation and of theosophy or mysticism, which in its highest and best meaning must be the "Science of Love."